Ahh, so you want to hike Mt Elbert, eh? Mt Elbert is the highest Colorado 14er, and the second tallest peak in the lower 48! The views from 14, 440′ (4,401 meters), are stunning. Mt Elbert is, surprisingly, dubbed “the easiest 14er”, making it an extremely popular climb for trekkers everywhere. This comprehensive guide will tell you everything you need to know about planning your hike up Mt Elbert. For a step-by-step Guide, check out Maddy’s perspective.
Quick Guide to Mt Elbert
Hiking a Colorado 14er is a big thing and some preparation is definitely called for. A 14er references any mountain that is higher than 14,000′. There are a whopping 58 14ers in Colorado! Would be trekkers of all skill levels, you can drive to the top of 14er Mt Evans), will find peaks ranging from easy to extremely difficult. Some of Colorado’s most popular 14ers are Mt Elbert, Pikes Peak and Long’s Peak.
Mt Elbert Stats:
|Distance||9.6 miles RT|
|Popular Routes||North Mount Elbert Trail
South Mount Elbert Trail
|YDS Class*||Class 1|
|Best Time To Climb||Jun – Sep|
The Yosemite Decimal System ( YDS) is a three-part system used for rating the difficulty of walks, hikes, and climbs, primarily used by mountaineers in the United States and Canada. Mt Elbert, NE Ridge and East Ridge is a Class 1.
A YDS Class 1 is – A low risk hike. Chance of injury for a Class 1 hike extremely unlikely.
Where is Mt Elbert
Mt. Elbert is located in central Colorado near the town of Twin Lakes about 140 miles west of Denver, 50 miles south of Vail, and 40 miles east of Aspen. The closest large town is Leadville, where you can stock up on food at the local Safeway, or even stay in a hotel for a good night’s sleep. A quick Google Maps search will show you exactly where Mt Elbert is located.
Mt Elbert Trails
NORTH MOUNT ELBERT TRAIL:
8.8 miles Round Trip, 4,530′ Elevation Gain, Class 1
This is the most common route up Mount Elbert and the one we chose for our most recent trip up. It features a very steady gain all the way to the summit, and is, unfortunately, a very highly trafficked trail.
There are countless campsites along the road near the trailhead, as well as established campgrounds, for which you pay a steep $20 plus additional vehicle charges of $7 per .
This hike begins in the woods and steadily rises to tree line. It is easy to follow, in very good condition, and features two false summits. Hikers reach tree line 2.9 miles into the hike. From here, the majority of the hike is visible via the ridge, and the views are stunning.
SOUTH MOUNT ELBERT TRAIL (4WD VEHICLE)
8.8 Miles Round Trip, 4,100′ Elevation Gain, Class 1
This route begins near Twin Lakes Reservoir, and is also heavily trafficked. The dirt road leading to the trailhead is accessible for “most” 4WD vehicles. This is the easiest route to the summit, is easy to follow, and features a steady elevation gain to the summit.
Road Conditions: During the winter the 4WD road is not accessible by car.
TH: Black Cloud: Class 2, 11 miles
Directions: From U.S. 24 south of Leadville, take Colorado 82 (Independence Pass) west toward Twin Lakes. Drive about 10.5 miles and turn right into the signed trailhead. When approaching the area of the turn-off, slow down because it’s hard to see the turn. After pulling into the TH, the trail starts behind the first two parking spots on the right. Overall, there is parking for about a dozen vehicles.
Box Creek Couloirs
TH: Mount Elbert (South): Class 2, 8.5/12.5 miles depending on where you start. Best Route for Skiing.
Directions: From U.S. 24 south of Leadville, take Colorado 82 west toward Twin Lakes. Drive about 4 miles and turn right onto the 24 road. Drive 1.2 miles up a hill to the main trailhead parking area (paved) on the left. This is the lower trailhead and 2WD vehicles should park here. Continue 50 feet past the lower TH and turn left on Forest Service road 125.1B (4WD). From here it’s 1.8 miles to the upper trailhead. Walk or drive up the 4WD road to reach the start of the trail.
Along the 4WD road there are many pull-offs and some camping spots. Near 0.5 mile there’s a rough patch on the road but most 4WD vehicles should be able to get past it. Near 1.5 miles there’s a very rough patch that will stop most vehicles. If you can’t drive past this point, there’s parking down the road a bit. Continue to the end of the road to find parking throughout the trees and the start of the trail.
What Time to Start Hiking Mt Elbert
Afternoon thunderstorms are very common when hiking Colorado 14ers and Mt Elbert is no exception. Storms can be extremely dangerous for summiteers who fail to get off the peak prior to storms hitting, as most trails are fully exposed and there is no possibility for escape.
For this reason, most hikers start their climbs in the early morning in order to reach the summit by 11 am, the latest time hikers should target, as this is typically the time you want to be making your descent. It took us slightly less than 4 hours to reach the summit. If you plan on remaining on the peak for longer than a few minutes, you will want to plan accordingly. Parking, also can become an issue. We arrived at the North Lot around 6:30 and snagged the last two remaining spots.
Many hikers set out to catch the sun rising on the summit. In this case, you will want to start your ascent no later than 2 am. This will have you at the summit between 5 & 6, depending on your pace. Be sure to check sunrise times as they vary greatly between the months of June – Sept.
What to Wear to Hike a Colorado 14er
Colorado weather is as unpredictable as you can imagine. Typically, mornings and evenings are cool and afternoons are warm. Layers are the answer to any question re: clothing for Colorado adventures. Here are our suggestions for a safe and comfortable hike …
- Hat/Baseball Hat: A warm hat for the chilly am and a baseball hat for the inevitable sun after tree line.
- Sunglasses: Don’t forget these!
- Inner layer
- Insulating layer
- Flannel Shirt
- Maybe a jacket or vest for cooler months
- Waterproof layer
- Good Shoes
- Hiking Socks
What To Pack for Mt Elbert
Packing List And What To Bring for Mt Elbert
- Hydration Pack: To be safe, you will want a 3.0L hydration pack.
- Extra set of socks: (we changed socks at the summit)
- Hiking stick: Not necessary, but helpful if you have knee issues. You can typically find sticks left at the TH by other hikers.
- Headlamp: For climbing in the dark and camping at night. Check out this uber inexpensive Petzl. Or this pricey Black Diamond.
- Snacks: You will want to pack snacks! Beef Jerky, Trail Mix, Dried Fruit, etc.
- First aid: I always have these items with me
- Eyedrops: In case sand or debris get into your eyes
- Medication for headaches
- Insect repellent
- Lip Balm
If you are camping overnight, you may also need:
- Shelter: Check our favorites. Family Tent/Bivy Sack/Hammock
- Cooler: Only the best, to keep your pre and post hike food cold! We splurged on our cooler, nothing else. 🙂
- Sleeping bag: Make sure your sleeping bag is sufficiently insulated for cool Colorado nights.
- Ax: An ax for cutting firewood, because it is rare to have a fire ban in Elbert Creek!
- Lantern: Camp lanterns are useful and fun …
Where to Camp for Mt Elbert
Campgrounds abound all around Mt Elbert. It is advisable to utilize these campgrounds since you have to wake early in the am to get started on your adventure.
The North Elbert trail features tons of dispersed campsites near the trailhead. This is an awesome location to spend the night. The sites are huge, with tons of privacy and quiet.
There are also two National Forest campgrounds; Halfmoon East Campground & Elbert Creek Campground (where we stayed), located on Halfmoon road right next to the trailheads for Mount Massive and Mount Elbert. Elbert creek has RV sites for less than 35 foot RVs and 17 tent sits. You can read more about each campground at the below links:
Neither campground has reservation sites, so they are first come first serve. $7 day fees for parking, $20 per site for overnight camping.
For the South Mount Elbert Trail, there are camping spots at the Lakeview Campground.
Further Questions …
Hiking Colorado is a blast. The beauty is incomparable! If you have any further questions that are left unanswered, please don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below. We respond to every comment every time!
Check out the view on the descent!!!